Most of us have a sad spot somewhere within as we remember a loved one who suffered from cancer. Many of us have driven family members back and forth to treatment—sometimes quite long distances to get the best care possible—watched them as they were sick, and held their hands while the doctors came in with new scans to look and at and translate, pointing at the tumor which was responsible for turning life nightmarishly upside down. Often it’s hard to really make sense of what’s going on, what the real prognosis is, and if the treatment is really going to be worth it. And for most, in the past, the tumor or the cancer becomes an invisible enemy lodged inside the body. The game of beating the tumor and cancer can start to feel very one-sided, and it’s easy for the patient to be left feeling in the dark, along with caring family and friends.
While often—no matter the prognosis—it’s hard to keep one’s chin up during treatment and sickness, being able to understand what’s going on internally makes a huge difference, and can offer a sense of relief too. With the advent of the 3D printed medical model, many patients and their families now are afforded a look at exactly what’s going on, thanks to completely patient-specific models made from MRI or CT data. In Linda Green’s case, not only did the 3D printed model show her the stubborn tumor lodged inside her kidney, but it may be the reason she is alive today, with the tumor that was sneakily tucked underneath her ribs now a thing of the past.
The 3D model is not of course just a wonderful educational tool for a patient like Green but it can serve as an invaluable guide for surgeons like Dr. Jay Bishoff. With this technology and these incredibly customized visual aids previously not available to doctors, treatments can be decided on with more facts and information in front of them, literally, and procedures that have not been tried before are now possible. Not only that, doctors can train on these aids as well, a new quotient in the treatment process which doesn’t leave surgeons or medical students having to be resourceful for training devices, or spending any more time than possible practicing on cadavers.
“We could not appreciate the peak of the tumor that was growing up into the drainage system of the kidney until we did the 3D reconstruction and 3D printing,” Dr. Bishoff said.
For Green’s impending treatment and surgery at Intermountain Medical Center, Dr. Bishoff had a clear model made of the kidney and tumor. This allows for surgeons to have a comprehensive view and to avoid the major mistake of removing something vital during the surgery. With the intricate and transparent model, however, Dr. Bishoff was able to remove the tumor without issue, leaving all vital parts intact. He used multiple 3D prints as guides to navigate through the operation, something numerous surgeons are doing today if they have access to the extremely helpful technology.
“I could’ve ended up with infection across my outer body or bleeding out,” Green said, definitely understanding the gravity of the procedure.
“When the surgery was over and he came out to talk to me, I really thought he was going to tell me that he had to take the kidney out,” Green’s husband said.
In a wonderful success story, Green is happy back at her home in Utah, cancer free, and her kidney is completely intact and functioning. The doctors have said that she won’t suffer any damage to the kidney or run the risk of failure.
And while 3D printing is so often touted as miraculous due to innovation combined with great affordability, that’s not the case here. In surgeries like this, creating these client-specific models can be cost-prohibitive. When absolutely needed, they are using the 3D printer in these cases, says Dr. Bishoff, but due to the expense, this is not routine practice currently.
While Green’s case was unique in the intricate surgery required to save the kidney and extract the tumor, her procedure can be added to that of a growing list of successful operations assisted by 3D printing, all seemingly miraculous due to specifics of each case and patient—even the smallest ones, from a baby girl in China recently saved from the effects of craniosynostosis to a toddler experiencing a fourth open heart surgery recently in Phoenix. 3D printing is not only responsible for being a great educational tool, but it also plays a huge role in diagnosing, treating, and navigating through surgeries on patients—all who certainly have a huge respect for the technology not only upon waking up and hearing that all went well, but also as they are up and out of the hospital often in record time, going on to live their lives to the fullest.